Friday, May 20, 2016

Repost of my review of Bringing Elizabeth Home...

I noticed someone reading this old review I wrote of Bringing Elizabeth Home.  I had originally posted it on Epinions.com, but that site is dead and my old reviews are disappearing.  So I am reposting it here for those who are interested.  Bear in mind that this review is 12 years old!


  • The Smarts don't share much intelligence...

    Review by knotheadusc
     in Books, Music, Hotels & Travel 
      August, 30 2004
  • Pros: Some nice pictures. Interesting background information about Ed and Lois Smart.
    Cons: Awkward writing. Lots of preaching. Not much new information.
    The first time I saw Ed and Lois Smart's 2003 book Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, I was tempted to purchase it. Their beautiful fourteen year old daughter Elizabeth was kidnapped from their Salt Lake City, Utah home on June 5, 2002. The Smarts' other daughter, nine year old Mary Katherine, witnessed the abduction and alerted Ed and Lois Smart after Elizabeth and the kidnappers, later revealed to be Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, were gone.

    I remembered how the summer of 2002 was a summer plagued by a rash of child abductions. A couple of those abductions had ended tragically-- five year old Samantha Runnion was killed soon after she was taken, but not before she was brutally molested by her captor. Elizabeth Smart had, against all odds, survived her abduction, reuniting with her family in mid March 2003. And Elizabeth Smart's story is a bizarre one indeed. Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee were revealed to be believers of a fundamentalist branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. According to news reports, Brian David Mitchell meant to make Elizabeth one of his wives.

    The Smart family fascinated me. On the front cover of Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope there is a lovely picture of Elizabeth and her parents, and on the back cover, the whole family of eight is pictured. The Smarts seem to espouse the epitome of the American Dream. Ed and Lois Smart are well off financially, and they have six beautiful children. I wanted to know what lingered beneath the surface of the Smart family's attractive facade. Nevertheless, I had read negative reviews about Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, so I passed up the book.

    Then last week, my husband went out of town for a meeting and I found myself with some extra time to do some reading. It wasn't long before I found myself purchasing Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope. I finished the book in a few days and am left with my own feelings of ambivalence about the Smart story. On one hand, Ed and Lois Smart are not professional writers and they were telling the heartwrenching story of their daughter's abduction. On the other hand, Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope was ghost written by Laura Morton, who, according to information on the book jacket, has written a total of eighteen books, six of which were New York Times bestsellers. Unfortunately, I would have expected more from someone who has had such an auspicious career in writing.

    While at times, I found Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope to be a warm, touching story, the writing is sometimes awkward and repetitive. Also, although the book is supposed to be written entirely from the Smarts' point of view, the authors don't seem to be very selective about their usage of pronouns. For instance, the chapters that are supposedly written by Ed or Lois as individuals read like personal narratives and employ the pronoun "I". In other chapters, "we" is used, but so is "Ed and Lois", as if the story is being told from a different point of view. It makes for awkward reading.

    This book doesn't shed a lot of light on the case, either. Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope doesn't offer many more details than what was already printed in the news or portrayed in the television movie that was made about Elizabeth and broadcasted last fall. There are, however, a couple of interesting chapters about Ed and Lois Smart's extended family. There's also a lot written about Elizabeth's love for playing her harp. Mary Katherine also plays the harp. I don't know of any kids who play harp, so it was interesting to read about that. The book also offers some very nice pictures of the family. Again, however, it seems like I had already seen some of them in magazines.

    The thing I liked the least about Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope was the "preachy" tone in the book. Yes, I understand that the Smarts' faith had a lot to do with keeping them sane while Elizabeth was missing, but the book, particularly at the beginning, is very heavy on quoting scriptures from the Book of Mormon and the D&C (Doctrine and Covenants), which is another LDS document. If readers aren't members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, they might not understand some of the significance of the quotes. Speaking of quotes, the Smarts start most chapters off with one, and they are generally from LDS sources-- either the Book of Mormon, or the D&C, or perhaps from a well known LDS leader like church president Gordon B. Hinckley. Again, it seems to me that the Smarts might have forgotten that they might have readers who have no understanding of the LDS Church. On the other hand, the inclusion of the LDS quotes may have been by design-- to get more people to investigate the church. All one has to do is contact LDS missionaries and they can start learning about the church and possibly become a member. In any case, it seems to me that some folks might find all the LDS stuff included in this book off putting, particularly if they don't believe in God or going to church. That said, I will also mention that before I picked up Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, I figured I would be reading something about the Smarts' faith, so this aspect of the book didn't surprise me much.

    The Smarts continually contend that they want to protect Elizabeth's privacy, and I respect that. On the other hand, I do find it curious that they published Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, if they truly wanted to protect Elizabeth's privacy. They write that they were hoping to put some of the false information to rest. It seems to me that the Smarts' book is really more about how Ed and Lois Smart dealt with Elizabeth's absence than Elizabeth's ordeal, and to the Smarts' credit, they do seem to convey that idea in the book. However, they had to know that people would buy this book expecting to read about what really happened to Elizabeth. The Smarts include a few details, but those who want to buy Bringing Elizabeth Home should realize that they won't get the whole scoop.

    I don't think that Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope is a terrible book. It's just that it doesn't reveal that much more than what the public already knows about the Smart case. The writing is not as strong as it should be and there's some preaching in this book that might turn some people off. Nevertheless, the Smart case is fascinating and if you want to know everything that's out there about the Smart family, you might find reading this book worthwhile. On the whole, however, I think that most people would probably do well to skip it.

8 comments:

  1. I've read BRINGING ELIZABETH HOME. I agree that it's largely Ed's and Lois' story. I believe they deliberately left out many of Elizabeth's details on the grounds that those experiences were hers and hers alone to share. I found the religious references off-putting, too, though I wasn't surprised by their inclusion, either. The Smarts were probably, as you suggested, looking at this as a missionary tool. What Mormons so often fail to realize is that their missionary tools are often so over-the-top that they accomplish the very opposite of what is intended. Sometimes less is more, particularly where proselytizing is concerned.

    I've also read MY STORY by Elizabeth Smart and IN PLAIN SIGHT by Elizabeth's uncle Tom Smart. Elizabeth's book shared more of the nitty gritty details than I would have expected. Tom Smart's book focused largely on incompetent law enforcement and unethical journalism (albeit with a bias, as he was the subject[wrongly as it ended up] of much scrutiny). Still, IN PLAIN SIGHT contained interesting information.

    The three volumes are almost a trilogy. One gets as accurate a picture by reading the three books as one will ever get when the sources are family members.

    As an aside, I've met many of the Smarts. One never knows what goes on behind closed doors when just the family is present, but they didn't give the impression of being one of the "perfect" LDS families who present one image to the public and n entirely different one when they think no one is looking. I've never spoken with Ed, but Lois seemed incredibly nice. Most of the times my brother and I were around her kids, my mom was fighting cancer. Lois probably knew it and went out of her way to be kind to us. I didn't interact with Elizabeth much as she was older, though she seemed very nice and well-mannered. Mary Katherine was just a normal and nice little girl. Matthew had more contact with the boys than I did.

    Regarding the harp, it's not one of the more difficult instruments to play, though it sounds beautiful when played well. What keeps most kids from playing it is the price of the instrument. Schools don't tend to have many harps lying around, and most parents are not willing to shell out the money a decent harp costs. Because it's linear as is a piano, someone with a decent ear can easily break the code on a harp, although without instruction a person is not using the technique that will allow him or her to advance to pieces requiring greater technical difficulty. The Smart girls are proficient harpists, although I would have no way of knowing if any form of nepotism was a factor in Elizabeth's music performance degree from BYU. Probably not, but who knows?

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    1. Elizabeth's book was better. It also made me very sad.

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  2. Elizabeth's book made me sad, too. I don't care what any of the skeptical exmos say about her receiving preferential treatment (or what some of the conspiracy theorists, exmo or otherwise, say about her complicity in the kidnapping, which they don't even refer to as a kidnpping) by being sent to a cushy mission in France, or the speculation surrounding her becoming engaged to a fellow missionary not long after her release. She's drop-dead gorgeous. What male missionary who saw her regularly on her mission wouldn't make every attempt to hit on her once they were both released?

    Elizabeth Smart has paid her dues in life far more than almost anyone will ever have to. If the LDS church made her the female equivalent of the Grand Pooh Bah and said she never had to pay a cent of tithing for the rest of her life, and she accepted the perks, I would not hold it against her one bit. The suffering she endured made mine look like a broken fingernail in comparison. If she can have a bit of the good life now, I'm happy for her. I wish her and her young family only the best.

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    1. I'm not a fan of Ed Smart's, but I will agree that Elizabeth Smart has done much to make lemonade out of lemons. I hope she's very happy.

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  3. Although I know him only as I've seen him on TV, I feel as though I known Ed Smart because I've known so many men who look, speak, and act as he does, including an uncle of mine.

    Elizabeth is very lucky to resemble her mother.

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    1. Bwahahahaha! I always thought she looked like Ed. I think she's pretty, but she wears way too much makeup in shades that don't necessarily flatter her coloring. But I can see that now that she's an adult, she is actually staying out of the limelight. Back when all of this was news, I got tired of hearing her plea for privacy, yet constantly be on my TV or in magazines. I think a lot of that had to do with Ed, though. He seemed to be the one wanting to be in the public eye.

      Elizabeth Smart is one of those people who's ended up in a career due to a terrible tragedy. Had she not been kidnapped and raped by wackos, I doubt she'd be doing what she's doing. But I think many people will benefit from her efforts.

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  4. I don't think she quite understood that you can't present yourself on TV or wherever, even for the right reasons, and then expect to be left alone as would be any private citizen.Her father was probably responsible for that. She seems to have figured out how to strike the balance now. She does her speaking engagements but doesn't really do fame-whoring activities. I'm impressed with her wisdom in not selling out to PEOPLE or VANITY FAIR or any other publication with pictures of her baby.

    I still think she looks like Lois, but Ed has softer features, which also ended up in the mix and made her even prettier. Mary Katherine is quite pretty, too. Her makeup could probably be better-selected, but she probably does it mostly herself without a paid cosmetician on staff, which, if true, is admirable in and of itself.

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    1. I thought all the Smart kids were attractive.

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